Despite the fact that Ohio is the state in which I was born, and despite the fact that until I was 17, we traveled there every year to visit my mother's family, I somehow failed to realize that Ohio isn't a completely flat, unsightly plain of strip malls and highways. I traveled to Loudonville, about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus, this weekend with Rich and John W. to race the Mohican 100 Miler.
The 8 hour drive out was uneventful, and after getting settled into our "Cozy Cabin," we kitted up and checked out the ridiculous hills at the beginning of the race. 300 feet, straight up in the first mile of the course. I think we hit 50 mph coming back down that thing. Next we hit up the local pizza joint for an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. Hell yes. Fully stuffed, drop bags packed, and slightly nervous, I hit the sack in what was indeed a Cozy bunk - I could literally put my feet on the bottom of the bed and have my head hit the wall on the other side at the same time.
5 AM wakeup came a little too soon, but a couple waffles and a cup of coffee later, and we were ready to roll. Rode to the race start in the middle of town in a cold, 50 degree fog. Within minutes, however, the sun burned it off and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.
7 AM, the gun goes off and 400 riders headed for the $200 preem at the top of the hill. A little bit of road later and then the inevitable bottleneck into the single track. It was at this point that I realized how hard this race was going to be.
They say Ohio is flat. Relatively speaking, this is true - the maximum elevation change in the race was 350 feet. What they fail to mention is that the race is at all times going straight up or straight down those 350 foot hills. 11,000 feet of climbing in this race was harder than the 12,500 feet in the Shenandoah 100. No rhythm, no settling in, just constant kicks to the stomach for what ended up being 10 hours.
That suffering aside, the race did offer up some tasty single track. The first 30 miles was nothing but twisty, flowy trail with some roots and rocks thrown in for good measure. Imagine a Middle Run soufflet with a dash of Fair Hill and a pinch of Downingtown. Topped, of course, with climbs gaining 350 feet at a time.
My race went a little like this: Mile 0 - 20, feeling good, somewhere ahead of Rich, but not far. Break a spoke at mile 5, and lose a minute wrapping it around other spokes. Quick stop at Aid #1 at mile 20 and Rich snuck by. I caught up with him 5 miles later and tried to show him my lines through the single track. When we hit the road section at mile 30, Rich started putting on the gas, riding really strong, and I worried that I would not be able to sustain the pace. Fearing I was going out too hard, I hung back on the climbs, but always managed to bridge on the descents, and we worked well together on the flats. Around mile 40 we hit some more singletrack - much rockier and more technical.
Hit Aid #3 and Rich is gone. I take some time to remove my now-broken waterbottle cage (rattling like a toddler toy) and Rich rolls in. He looks shattered. I wait up to leave Aid 3 but quickly lose him on the tough singletrack climb out. Bummed that he was gone, I went on alone.
Rode miles 55 - 70 mostly alone, trading position with a singlespeeder who was faster on the climbs. Worked out some mean cramps in the legs at mile 60, then hit 8 or 9 miles of flat rail-trail to end up at Aid #4. About to leave, I see Rich rolling up with a big group. He looks fresher now, and closed some of the gap by working with a strong group on the flats. I agree to wait a quick minute and we roll out together.
The next 25 miles passed uneventfully, Rich and I working together to get over the hills on this mostly dirt road section of the race. Mile 90, and I break my chain on a bad shift. Rich waits and I get the chain fixed in under 90 seconds - probably a record somewhere. We lose about 6 positions, but then enter the last 5 miles of the race - single track! Sweet! Despite hating the thought of steep rocky climbs, I find myself loving the swoopy, flowy trail, and Rich hangs on my wheel as we catch all the racers who passed us during the chain fix.
We pop out onto the road at the entrance to the campground. Thinking we are done, we shake hands and agree to roll in together. The odometer reads 99 miles, but we think nothing.
Until we turn the corner - the race organizers decided to take us up and over the race's early hike-a-bike once more before the finish. I look at the clock 9:53. We're going to have to run up this thing to hit the goal time of 10 hours even. Suffering the whole way, half laughing at the cruelty of the course designer, we finally see the banner. We roll across together and head straight for the cooler.
The race was very hard, but very fun. Never felt great, but never felt like I wasn't going to finish. Finally, we run into John Williams, who excited tells us he not only finished in 8:40 (!!) but won the masters race!
A shitty "mongolian bbq" passed for dinner, plus one more beer and the podium ceremony, and we hit the hay before the sun was all the way down.